In reviewing compliance documentation, we found it necessary to talk about Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology for both privacy and secure remote access. A VPN is a connection to a private network over the internet through an encrypted tunnel – think smuggling information across a secret passageway between two places.
Why use VPN?
Privacy: There has been a huge buzz lately about using VPN technology to help mask you browsing habits from the likes of the NSA or Google. VPN services offer connections that regularly change your external IP address so that a profile (marketing or otherwise) is harder to build. It also makes hacking of your information harder when these services providers offer anti-virus and anti-spam filtering as part of the VPN service.
What are the trade-offs? These VPN service providers will now be the sole owner of your browsing habits – they can sell targeted profiles to marketing companies – so read those terms of service. There will also be a performance hit to your internet speed, so if you are working from a slow network already this may not be an option. Then there is the added cost of an extra $5 to $15 per month for these services on top of your internet bill each month.
Secure Remote Access: This was the original intent of VPN technology and where it really shines. Either from remote workers using coffee shop wifi or remote offices connecting to the main office, VPN tunnels are used to securely access data, servers, and other network resources. This technology is required by all major compliance agencies so that all data transmitted is encrypted during transport. In the past servers would open ports to the internet to allow access, but it was found that this practice allowed hackers the same opportunity to gain access. With VPN tunnels there is another layer of protection from unexpected access. There is also the benefit that no outside provider gets access to your browsing habits.
What are the trade-offs? This will require a router at the main office that is business grade and capable of handling the traffic. It will then require setup of remote workers laptops or remote offices with similar business grade routers.
If your company is concerned about privacy on the internet or secure remote access, then contact us for assistance.
As the last email stated, I would like to give the above pictured computer to a well deserving non-profit or struggling business that would benefit from a technology infusion. There was an underwhelming single response to my request, so I have decided to give the computer to the one suggested organization:
Woodland Charter School
This computer is suitable for normal office work and will be replacing an aging laptop used in there front office by the staff. I will be including free setup of the computer to help get them connected properly.
Please contact us with ideas on who could best use our next free new computer.
We are currently facing the mountain of paperwork and responsibilities associated with the death of a loved one who did not properly prepare for their passing. While thinking through this stuff the thought of disaster preparedness came to mind and what would be the way to properly prepare for the sudden passing of myself or a business partner so that those who remained could continue on. Here are my thoughts:
Partnership / Corporate Agreement: Most states will immediately dissolve / liquidate a business partnership agreement unless the agreement has a continue after death clause that allows the estate to be paid off for their share of the current worth of the business. These payouts can also be paid by an insurance policy. Have an attorney look at the current agreement and amend as needed.
Personal Data: Business partners will need access to a copy of information like social security number, date of birth, birth / marriage / death certificates, and location of all agreements / wills. Having this information easily available saves tons of time for those left behind and make filling out the needed paperwork much easier. This information is best stored in one location like a safe deposit box.
Financial Data: Business partners will need access to insurance information, bank accounts, investment accounts, tax returns, current debts, title / registration of property, and any safe deposit keys that are connected to the business. Knowing this information will help create an estimate of the worth of the business to give the estate their fair share of the current worth. Plus if the partner that passed was in charge of these things it will make it easier for the responsibility to be handed to someone else.
Business Data: Businesses should have a master list of usernames and passwords for all local software, servers, online accounts, key safes, etc. This list needs to be updated regularly and a copy would be best kept in the same safe deposit box that the vital records are kept.
Advanced Directives: Just like for family members, the business partner will need to be able to act on behalf of the business in case the other partner is incapacitated in some way. Having these documents in order before this happens is crucial. Make sure to have a lawyer look over the document to make sure it is complete based on state laws where business is being conducted.
“Key Man” Insurance: If any of the business partners or employees are “indispensable” then key man insurance can be purchased by the business. This insurance policy pays off on death to help the company stay afloat until a replacement can be found. It is also important at this point to think about training and disbursement of business information. No one person in the company should have so much knowledge that they would sink the business even if they just left the organization one day.
Take the time to prepare for the worse to make life for those left behind easier to manage after your passing, and contact us for any assistance you need in this process.
As a partner with Lenovo and Intel, I have been given the opportunity to give one of my clients (or perspective clients) a brand new computer and workstation as pictured above. It contain a new memory cache chip from Intel that they would like some feedback on, so the company that accepts this will have to fill out a survey and be on a single phone interview. The computer will be used with the cache enabled and disabled to see the difference the chip makes. Once the testing is done the computer is FREE to keep.
I would like to give this computer to a well deserving non-profit or struggling business that would benefit from a technology infusion. This computer is suitable for normal office work. I will include free setup of the computer to help get them connected properly. I will decide who gets the computer at the end of March 2019.
Please contact us with ideas on who could best use this free new computer.
I was chatting with my son who works for a large local company who
contracts with a local Managed Service Provider to help with their IT
needs. Due to a clause in their contract they are now locked into paying
over $15,000 per month for IT services for the next three years. This
includes $300 per server (they have 5 of them) and $70 per workstation
(they have over 100 of them) plus some other mysterious charges for the
network. Personally I think that this is outrageous.
Here at Farmhouse Networking we do not believing in locking our clients
into a contract. Our IT services are always month to month so that if
either of us are dissatisfied with the relationship then we can easily
end things with no obligations. Our services are also reasonably priced
due to keeping our overhead low – we charge $65 per server and $25 per
workstation plus a small per device charge for other network devices.
That is a mind boggling 280-460% savings over the local competition. For
that large company that would be a realized savings of somewhere
between $9,600 and $11,700 per month – enough to hire several new
employees or purchase new equipment to increase production.
If your company is looking to keep the costs of IT services down and keep more working capital for true business needs, then contact us for assistance.
With the recent addition of VoIP phone service and internet phone service for current phone system owners, we here at Farmhouse Networking have decided to “eat our own dog food” as the saying goes by changing our phone number over to use the new VoIP phone system ourselves. So here is what to expect:
Phone System Features:
Texting: Those of you who are used to texting in for quick responses will no longer be able to do so. I will still have a cellphone and be able to answer calls from the field via the phone systems Ring Group feature, but I will changing the phone number for my cell phone.
Desk Phone: When in the office, we will be answering our Polycom VVX310 desk phone which has HD Voice for clearer call quality.
Messages: Any time a message is left on our new system, the phone system Voice to Text feature will transcribe the message automatically then send an email into our ticketing system with a copy of the audio also attached. This then becomes a ticket – this feature will increase responsiveness and accuracy in handling your requests.
Holidays, Nights, & Weekends: The phone system has been setup to recognize specified national holidays, birthdays, and special occasions. It also has Time Frame setup with business hours between 9am and 5pm on all weekdays. When outside these business hours or on holidays the phone system will be answered by our Auto Attendant system. This will give the option to leave a voicemail to create a ticket or agree to after hours rates to start an emergency call. Please see our Terms & Conditions for more information.
Thanks for always looking to Farmhouse Networking to serve your company’s IT needs.
If your company is looking to upgrade your current phone system feature set or reduce overall costs of phone service, then contact us for assistance.
Ran across a startling statistic the other day that HIPAA audits are up 400% and that an amazing 94% of them end in failure. So what if you could have HIPAA compliance insurance that placed a professional team of former auditors in your corner? Farmhouse Networking is partnering with the Compliancy Group, a nationally recognized and industry leading HIPAA compliance software company, to provide our customers with peace of mind. So how well is your organization prepared for an audit? Take a look at the following checklist:
NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It acts as the defacto baseline that all other security and compliance organizations use to construct their standards. Reading their publications is like reading any other government document – extremely long and not interesting. Farmhouse Networking recently became aware of one such document called NISTIR 7621 aka Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals. We took the time to distill out the main points here:
The Fundamentals aka Best Practices
Identify: Who has access to the network, who has access to the data, and what do they have access to. This includes background checking employees during the hiring process, taking an inventory of data to see who needs access to what, requiring that each user have their own login, and company policy creation.
Protect: Protection starts with separating data into shares then giving access only to those who really need it. It also includes protecting hardware with uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and protecting software with regular updates. Protecting the network includes setting up a proper firewall, separate wireless for guest access, and VPN only access for remote users. Web filtering, SPAM filtering, file encryption, proper disposal of old equipment, and employee training are also mentioned.
Detect: Having a centrally managed antivirus software on each workstation is a must. This includes the ability to look back in time via log files or monitoring system to find the root of the security breach.
Respond: Have a disaster recovery plan and security incident response plan in place.
Recover: Need full backups of all important business data, invest in cyber insurance, and regularly access your technology to find timely improvements.
If your company does not meet these fundamentals, then contact us for assistance.
“In a new stunning example of the scale and sophistication of online cybercrime, just before the holidays, DOJ charged two hackers with stealing hundreds of gigabytes of data—including sensitive intellectual property, confidential business data, and personal information from companies and government agencies around the world—as part of a multi-year cyber-espionage campaign that targeted managed service providers (MSPs) directly, bypassing the protections of client systems. This indictment is the latest example of the U.S. government’s use of the criminal justice system to crack down on state-sponsored economic espionage.
As alleged in the indictment, the hackers belong to what is believed to be an elite, Chinese government-sponsored group known within the cyber-security community as Advanced Persistent Threat 10 (APT10). The targets of the hacking campaign included companies in the aerospace, health care, biotechnology, finance, manufacturing, and oil and gas industries, as well as U.S. government agencies, such as NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy.”
The indictment alleges that APT10’s MSP Theft Campaign began in 2014 and involved three stages.
The hackers gained unauthorized access into the MSPs’ computers and installed malware allowing APT10 to remotely monitor the computers and steal login credentials.
The group then used these stolen credentials to move laterally into each MSP’s network and the networks of their clients, further spreading the malware infection.
APT10 identified data of interest on these compromised computers and created packages for exfiltration using encrypted archives, allowing the hackers to move the data from one system to another before ultimately transferring it to APT10’s computers.
This sort of breach calls into question the operating procedures of MSPs everywhere, their security practices, and moral compass. If IT support staff are not trained in best practice and cannot keep from being infected via websites or emails, then what business do they have managing larger network systems with sensitive data.
If you are unsure of your MSPs practices and would prefer a company with transparency, then contact us for assistance.
As small businesses change and grow, the ability to quickly scale up — or down — becomes a necessity. Adding new employees, for example, requires the company to adapt its phone system to accommodate the need for more lines.
That is harder to accomplish using traditional on-premise telephony systems due to higher setup and maintenance costs, the need for hardware on-site and reliance on IT support. A cloud-based phone system, on the other hand, would enable small businesses to manage communication services in a less costly, more streamlined and agile manner.
Benefits of a Cloud-Based Phone System
1. Fully-Integrated Communications System
Business tools that operate in the cloud are easy to deploy, enabling employees to stay connected whether they are in the office or on the go. In this way, the cloud provides a consistent business presence and helps to increase productivity with seamless access to CRM tools, email, instant messaging, voice and videoconferencing.
2. Control Over Modes of Communication
A cloud-operated system puts businesses in the driver’s seat, allowing them to pick and choose what features they need, with access to turn them on or off easily. Also, cloud solutions give employees anytime, anywhere access via a smartphone, desk phone or softphone to all their calling features.
3. Top Line Business Features
A cloud-based phone system would give small businesses access to the types of network applications that one would typically find at larger corporations. These include features such as a Virtual Assistant, Auto Attendant, Never Miss a Call or Call Center solutions.
4. Mobility and Ease of Use
Today’s workplace is increasingly mobile, and small businesses especially need to be able to operate from multiple locations. With a cloud-based system, small business employees have access to features that allow them to log in from anywhere so that they can be reached while on the go, giving customer-facing and revenue-producing employees greater control over their productivity.
5. Time Management and Efficiency
Web-based customer portals enable IT staff to manage their system more efficiently. With insight into the installation, service configuration, trouble tickets, training, billing and call analytics, this full access to a customer’s system and account allows them to spend fewer resources on project management and focus more on work that adds to the bottom line.
6. Flexibility to Scale Up (and Down)
As a business grows, so does the need to hire new employees, open new offices and onboard new customers. This requires a communications system that can scale up — or down — as the need arises. With a cloud-based phone system, businesses can add as many extensions as they need to accommodate heightened call volume, or, if necessary, simply call in to deactivate these extra extensions. Unlike traditional systems, businesses only pay for the extensions they need for as long as they need them.
7. Business Continuity
Working with a phone system “in the cloud” allows businesses to remain connected to their customers no matter the environment. A cloud-based communications system is likely to be unaffected by outside factors such as severe weather or other issues that may keep employees from getting to the office.
8. Improved Customer Service
With the Virtual Receptionist (VR) or Auto Attendant feature, businesses can easily direct calls to various departments and even create greetings unique to a given department. For example, a business could set up a holiday greeting in advance (via the administrative portal) and pre-set it to revert to the non-holiday greeting on a specified date. It could also add an on-hold message about special promotions or commonly asked questions.
9. New Service Features Added Easily
During busy seasons, some businesses will add premium calling features to increase call-taking efficiency and maximize staffing. Call Groups, for example, allow incoming calls to ring on multiple extensions. Call Queues provide a “dynamic waiting room” for callers that let businesses customize the on-hold experience and better manage call volume. Both help to decrease voicemails, missed calls and busy signals, enabling service to as many callers as possible.
10. Cost Savings
Cost savings are another benefit of cloud-based phone system. Moving telecommunications off of PBX platforms and to the cloud can be less expensive relative to monthly service rates versus that of a traditional system, helping to reduce costs and, ultimately, increase profitability.
If your company is looking to reap the benefits of moving to the cloud, then contact us for assistance.